All Is Lost is a survival movie along the lines of Cast Away, Life Of Pi and Gravity, but with a lot more desperation. It doesn’t have a volleyball or a tiger, or a pompous veteran astronaut. What it has is Robert Redford and a whole lot of water and rain. Survival movies have come and gone and left a lot of discussion in their wakes. There will always be a large portion of the audience who will have no tolerance for their simplicity (this movie’s screenplay is a reported 32 pages). But they are the movies that give us more than words. They give us hope.
There’s not much to say about a screenplay that’s 32 pages long. If one page is the equivalent of one minute of screen time, then the action that fills All Is Lost’s pages must have been packed and sealed without room for air. There is almost no spoken word. The movie opens with a haunting narration, yes, but then it silences its one and only character by unleashing the power of the ocean on him. All Is Lost tells the story of his survival. Alone and afraid. But resourceful.
We remember movies like Cast Away and Life Of Pi for being skeletal. I remember thinking of Life Of Pi: “It’s just him and that tiger! And that tiger’s not even real!”. But I forgot about the adult Pi and his writer friend. His family. The crew of the ship. There were so many other characters. All Is Lost does away with all that excess and keeps Redford on screen, alone, for one hour and forty-five minutes. Genuinely alone.
Here, I’ll wrap up the plot: Redford plays a man. We don’t know who he is, where he’s come from, or where he’s going. We do know that he’s in the Indian Ocean somewhere, and that he’s rich; his yacht is no poor man’s boat. A Chinese shipping container wakes him up by crashing into the side, tearing apart the fragile hull. We never learn of this container’s origins, or how it has managed to stay afloat despite having one of its doors flung open. All we know is that it’s filled with shoes. Probably fakes. We also know that now Mr. Redford’s boat is critically injured.
What follows is his quest to stay alive.
We’ve seen this story told a hundred times over, but never like this. Filmgoers like to use the term “stripped down” to describe minimalistic movies. “Oh, Carnage was stripped down to its bones and its characters were allowed to shine through”. Yes, in many ways that’s right. But what does “stripped down” really mean? When does a movie cross over from “stripped” to “barely clothed”? Personally, I see no importance in asking such a question. If a critic was to say of All Is Lost: “This breathtaking survival movie has been stripped of all its meat, leaving only its raw, bare soul to flounder for life along with its main character”, I’d have to concur. Never have I seen a feature length film with so little dialogue and only one character.
Redford, that masculine icon of Americana, is usually in a role that allows him to flex his muscle and wink charmingly at the camera. You can only do that for so long though. Once age catches up there’s hardly any muscle to flex. In this way Redford is the perfect choice to play Our Man. He’s tough enough to make himself believable in the role, yet fragile enough to make his fate unclear.
I’ve always maintained that Brad Pitt resembles a young Redford. Don’t believe me? See The Sting, with Redford and Paul Newman, and tell me that’s not Brad Pitt. Interestingly, in All Is Lost, Redford at times resembles Michael Douglas. Crease-faced, pursed lips, yet hardy. Observe his hands. They are the hands of an old person, and they’ve seen better days, yet they are the right hands for this movie. They know their way around.
Director J. C. Chandor knows his way around also. This is only his second feature, but he approaches it without hesitation. He wrote the screenplay too, which is no easy feat, considering its lack of sophistication. The majesty of this movie arrives in the form of Redford, who I’m sure must have thought he could talk to his notepad from time to time and have it respond out of pity. It’s a brave performance in a brave motion picture. Pity about Virginia Jean though.
Best Moment | Watching Our Man’s yacht sink to a watery grave as he drifts away on the life raft. Almost as powerful as the sinking scene in Life Of Pi, but less haunting.
Worst Moment | Nope.